February 25, 2024

Restructure now or Nigeria will go under – Opadokun, NADECO leader


…The parliamentary system is best for our situation
…State of the economy, insecurity are unacceptable

CHIEF Ayo Opadokun is the Secretary-General of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. In this interview, the former National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere speaks about why Nigeria has been an under-developing nation, how a return to the parliamentary system of government will free Nigeria from wickedness and the need for President Bola Tinubu not to fail Nigerians and the black race. He says time is running out.

Some members of the House of Representatives recently proposed a bill to return Nigeria to the Parliamentary system of government. What do you make of the bill?

That bill is a manifestation of the truism of dialectic progression – thesis and antithesis – which had been presented to the Nigerian people sometime in 1982 by Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the annual convention of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN. In recent times, it conforms with the agenda that the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, had campaigned vigorously for as the only way to free Nigeria from the wickedness which the military had perpetrated on the country.

I believe that those members who initiated it should be applauded by all well-meaning Nigerians who have been clamouring for a way out of the current economic deprivation, injustice, discrimination, inequity, unfairness and much more. Most of the people had never experienced good governance before, but during the First Republic when the parliamentary system of government was used, Nigeria witnessed a progressive, open government that was responsible and responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of the citizens. The resources of each region were used to make life better for the people in those regions and that helped the central government, that is the Federal Government, to progress.

The parliamentary system is cost effective in every sphere and it makes the leadership responsible to his electorates, the citizens.

When you say it makes leadership responsible, is it that we do not have responsible leadership now?

It is responsive to their yearnings and aspirations at all times because the leader, who is called the prime minister, is just first among equals and he is equally a parliamentarian. What usually happens in the parliamentary system is that either at the weekly or fortnight meetings of the Federal Executive Council, which is composed mainly of ministers who are themselves elected, whatever is happening at each minister’s constituency will be brought to the meeting of the Executive Council. He must have notified the Prime Minister before the discussion and it will be discussed. Efforts will be made to respond to such peculiarities of such constituencies that have issues. The government itself will survive as long as it has a majority in the parliament.

If an opponent moves a vote of no confidence by the rules and the sitting government can’t have a majority, that government will fall. If it falls, it doesn’t mean that the opponent will take over. What it means is that another person has to be made the prime minister to form the government. Based on that, the government is kept on its toes 24/7 to respond to the yearnings and aspirations of the people, unlike the presidential system. The executive presidential system was forced on Nigerians by the military. General Murtala Mohammed constituted a so-called 50 wise men, but Chief Obafemi Awolowo rejected the invitation making it 49 wisemen, led at that time by Chief Fredrick Rotimi Alade Williams. Muhammad told them to fashion a government with executive authority.

Executive authority? Why? That’s a clear departure from what we had in the First Republic.

All he wanted was a government that was similar to the military organogram where power goes from the Commander-in-Chief to the bottom. They didn’t consider the peculiarities of the custom, tradition, religion, artefacts, folklore, mores and morals of the Nigerian people before coming to that.

The most uncharitable thing they did was not to consider the state of the economy in Nigeria in foisting the executive presidential system on the country. It is too exorbitantly prohibitive and costly to run. They patterned the executive presidential system in a globally unique style. There is none like it.

Up until now, the United States of America remains the biggest economy in the world; the totality of Nigeria’s economy is not up to the economy of one state in America. Already we have been spending over 80 per cent of our total earnings to run recurrent expenditure that is why we have very little for any development project and so, we are in a doldrum. Unfortunately for us, in the last 25 to 35 years, Nigeria has been an underdeveloped country. The quality of life we had in the Second Republic is far better than what we have today.

Some people are also agitating that there should be a return to the regional form of government, do you support their agitation?

That’s part of it. That is why we are saying the totality of our position is that we should return to the 1960 independence constitution. What we will now have is a (as a result of the balkanisation of the regions into states which the military had done) federation of states. It has to be done reasonably and responsibly as it is done in India, Sweden, Canada and Germany. The basis for such configuration is usually language, ethnicity, religion, culture, artefacts, folklore, mores and morals.

What the military had wickedly done was to minoritise some majority tribes as they did with the Yoruba of Kwara and Kogi for selfish reasons. As they did for the Yoruba is what they have done for the Nupe. There are Nupe in Kwara and Niger. There are Gbagi people in Niger, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and some of them in Kaduna. Today, there are Ijaw in almost five different states of the country. All these things were done unscientifically without the necessary democratic variables considered. These are important things to be done before there could be peace and concord, but they were just neglected and did it by force.

The thrust of their argument is that the parliamentary system should be effected before the 2027 election…

I imagine that they should consider the consequences of the take-off date to conform to the objective realities of the Nigerian setting. I won’t suggest a date until I see the bill, and read through it to see those things necessary to be put in place. I don’t believe that such a long time is needed for the bill to be effected.

Those making this bill have four years and many of them may not return. Some people, as a result of this step they have taken, will be angry with them. Some big people who don’t want any progress or improvement in the country, those who want to keep Nigeria in perpetual poverty and enslavement will not want that kind of thing. It is a thing that they ought to work on as quickly as possible for a quicker period than that. It is not something to be postponed. There is nothing they want to work on. If they seek advice and intervention from many people like us who have done considerable work we will make quite several things available to them.

They don’t need to reinvent the wheel, there is a template already. Again, to tell you how lucky they are, the pro-democracy groups between 2003 to 2005 and 2006 had a national conference where all the nationalities in Nigeria were present. They came up with their draft bill as to how they wanted to be governed. After the plenary session, almost two or three years, this thing was packaged and a bill was prepared.

Do you think state police will curb insecurity as currently witnessed in the country? And don’t you think the governors will misuse the police in their states?

Any government that has a parliament under federalism is expected to have a state police. It is not a gift. By law if you have a parliament, you should have a police to enforce the laws made by your parliament; that’s why having state police is not magical in any case.

It has been an aberration that we don’t have it because the army abrogated it in Decree 1 when they suspended the Independence and Republican constitutions. It was in existence, there were regional police before and local government police. If they are returning to it, fair and good. I must caution that in the circumstances that we are in, most of the elements who are now state governors were products of the military regimes. They were born under a military dictatorship of various kinds and never knew anything other than the military. There is an urgent need to set down the parameters for the configuration of state police.

What do I mean? The state police must have a council which will be composed of independent people. It should include the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC; the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA; the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA; representatives of the traditional rulers, representatives of the religious leaders, representatives of women and representatives of any political party that has a representative in the state assembly. And the governor should not be the one to appoint their chairmen for them. They should appoint their chairmen perhaps in rotation. The operational order should reside within that council. They should be the ones to advise the governor as to how the police should tackle whatever issues. If you leave the police in the hands of one person who sees himself as the overall, it can be misused as they did in the First Republic. To avoid that, let’s have an independent police council that will be composed of such independent persons, who will not take no for an answer.

Some advocates of restructuring are saying this is the best time to do so, adding that if we don’t, the country might go under. As an advocate of restructuring, how do we go about this?

I have no quarrel with the concept of restructuring, but the truth is that let us go back to the 1963 constitution. When we go back to that, all other matters will be sorted out instead of dissipating energy on diversities that people have over restructuring.

I am happy that the leader of the group is from Sokoto. They now realise the implications of somebody sitting down in Abuja dictating how the security of Zamfara and Sokoto will be managed while the indigenous people are being massacred by invaders and they are exploiting the resources of the state without anyone responding. From media reports, the government leaders of Zamfara and Sokoto many times live much more in Kaduna or Abuja than in their states. It is good that the man leading this thing is from Sokoto and he and his group are to be applauded.

It is said that at one time you were close to the President. Looks like things have changed. However, if you are to meet with him, what advice will you give to him regarding the state of the nation?

Take the last statement that NADECO issued to him when he won at the Supreme Court. The open letter we wrote to him. I have explained in clear terms that President Bola Tinubu is a street-wise president.

We should give it to him that of all the people before him, no one has the expertise, and technical knowledge of economy and finance as he has. He has an abounding duty to utilise that gift, that knowledge to initiate policies that can lift the Nigerian people out of the current unacceptable level of economic misery and poverty.

The state of the economy is unacceptable; the level of insecurity has worsened. No right-thinking person will say that it was when President Bola Tinubu got into office that insecurity worsened; it has been like that for 20 to 30 years.
When Boko Haram was starting, particularly when that character in Zamfara State started to create an Islamic law in Zamfara State which was eventually copied by 10 or 12 other states, we told President Obasanjo that he was having two parallel constitutions and their so-called decreed constitution did not accept that, adding that only one constitution ought to be in place.

He (Obasanjo) said it was a political Sharia, and it would soon fade away. It has not faded away. Even though the Sharia operatives will go and damage all the beer bottles of sellers, they claim the percentage of Value Added Tax, VAT, Nigeria has been earning from all those drinks. They quickly claim them and use them, including for their religious purposes. What hypocrisy!

For me, the truth of the matter is I have spoken through NADECO. He was with NADECO in the trenches and he knew what we wanted, which was a return to true federalism.

In the trenches, he fought tooth and nail. He spent his money and connections for us to return to ‘democracy’.
That is why I don’t believe that what we have is a democracy but a civil government. Be that as it may, since he is one of us, he has an abounding duty to reorder things and return us to real democracy.

One critical thing that he must and cannot afford to waste time on is a return to the federal system of government. I know once a human gets to power, they don’t want their power to diminish, they want to take hold of what they have and the powers of the Nigerian president is perhaps the biggest or largest expanse of power that you can have in the whole world, if you look at the number of appointments he will make. The thing is timed. Whatever it is, he cannot spend more than eight years in office. After that what happens to Nigeria? What happened to the ethnic nationalities, who have been living in their territory for thousands of years, before the British invaders came using their gun power to subdue our people? But as a result of negotiations by our nationalists, they concluded that a federal system of government which recognises different religions, languages, customs and traditions will be accommodated and all of us will be meeting at the centre. The centre couldn’t be the boss of the component regions. In the First Republic, all the regions had their representatives.

What is the Nigeria of your dreams?

It is a return to the federal system of government. A parliamentary system that is cost-effective, responsible and responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. A government that utilises the resources of each area for the development of its people; a government that would respond to the divine calling on Nigeria as the most populous black nation in the world. Nigeria has been an abysmal failure to the black race because we cannot even govern ourselves.

I implore President Bola Tinubu to take concrete steps to work with knowledgeable people outside his little confine who could be of assistance to him so that we could reconfigure the dreams and aspirations of our founding fathers for a Nigeria that will be able to provide leadership for the black race.

As of today, black people are being derided, ignored, discriminated against and not known for creating something that would change the course of humanity as others have done. We are looked at as if we are of inferior intelligence whereas civilisation itself started in Africa, Egypt.

The black race is looking up to Nigeria to govern itself properly so that it can now provide leadership. We have creative people, intelligent people among the blacks including Nigerians who are doing marvellous work in the laboratory. However, if we have good leadership, such enterprise from our researchers will be given recognition.